Names:Asplenium means not-spleen referring to the historical use of spleenwort to treat spleen problems. Trichomanes means hairy mane. Maidenhair Spleenwort is also known as English Maidenhair. The term “maidenhair” probably comes from the hair-like leaf stalks just as for Maidenhair Fern.
Relationships: Asplenium is a genus of about 700 species of ferns, with about 30 native to North Amercia and several more to Puerto Rico. A few species are used ornamentally as houseplants or in woodland rock gardens.
Distribution: Maidenhair Spleenwort is a variable species, found nearly worldwide.
Habitat: It grows in rocky habitats in temperate and subarctic regions and in mountainous regions of in the tropics. It is native throughout most of the United States, including Hawaii.
Diagnostic Characters: Fronds are very narrow, 10-25cm long, with small oval to round, paired leaflets on a dark purplish-brown rachis.
In the Landscape: Kruckeberg writes: “It is one of our best rock garden ferns, and a superb container plant;” Hitchcock writes: “Both our plants (aspleniums) are attractive, but A. trichomanes is much nicer and the more tractable.” It can be grown in wall crevices
My son and his fiancée wanted to give wildflower seed packets as favors for their wedding. I wanted to make sure that all the seeds were native species.
The problem with nearly all commercially available wildflower seed blends is that they usually do not contain native species, even when it says that it is formulated for a specific region. In fact many have been shown to contain noxious weeds!
Native wildflowers evolved along side native insect pollinators and hummingbirds and are great for attracting them to your yard!
I set about purchasing seeds to make our own custom blend. (It is not scientific or tested, but includes species that I was able to purchase in some quantity at a reasonable price.
Some of these wildflower seeds need a cold-winter stratification, so it is better to plant in the fall. (Although you could save some seed to plant in spring, too; some may be better sown in spring.)
For best results, prepare a new planting area.
Clear the area of weeds.
You can till in some clean, well-draining soil, but it is better if it is not a rich organic garden blend; native prairie plants often compete better on less fertile soil.
Rake out the soil to prepare for planting.
Scatter the seeds on the surface of the soil. Mixing the seed with some sand first may be helpful to spread seeds evenly and space them out.
Water the seeds after sowing. They will need to be watered whenever there has not been any measurable rainfall…at least until plants are established. With our unpredictable weather, it is always a good idea to watch for dryness and signs of stress…
The biggest challenge is always weeding. Since you may not recognize what is a weed and what is a wildflower, you should wait until you can tell for sure what is a weed before pulling it!
The seed list:
Common Yarrow Achillea millefolium 12-24″ It has white flowers and fern-like foliage. Yarrow is common throughout much of the northern hemisphere in Asia, Europe, and North America. It is long been used as a medicinal herb. The genus name Achillea is derived from Achilles, who reportedly carried it with his army to treat battle wounds. It is great for a butterfly garden. It can be mowed and is often a component of eco-lawns.
Nodding Onion Allium cernuum 8-18″ It has attractive nodding pink flowers and grasslike, oniony foliage. Like most allium species, it can be used in moderate amounts as flavoring. They are pollinated by bees and often self-sow.
Pearly Everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea 8-40″ It has small, white, strawflower-like flowers that keep well in a dried flower bouquet. The foliage is grayish. It does well in sunny sites. The leaves are host to the caterpillars of the American Painted Lady Butterfly.
Western Columbine Aquilegia formosa 8-48 It has Red or orange sepals and yellow petals. “Aquila” is Latin for Eagle, but it appears that Aquilegia really comes from the Latin word, Aquilegus, which means water-collecting. “Formosa” means beautiful. “Columbine” is from Columba, Latin for dove (from the resemblance of the flower to a cluster of five doves). Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and even children enjoy Columbine’s sweet nectar!
Showy Milkweed Asclepias speciosus 18-50″ It has light pink to purple flowers fading to yellow. Milkweed plants are the only type of plant on which Monarch butterflies lay their eggs. Their larvae will feed on the plant ingesting chemicals from that make the Monarchs distasteful to most predators.
Nodding Bur MarigoldBidens cernua 4-40″ This flower is named for the graceful droop of the yellow daisy-like flowers. The seeds have sticky barbs which stick to clothes or fur. Other names include Beggarsticks or Stick tights. The seeds are a favorite food of ducks, sparrows and finches.
Yellow Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris 8-12″ Marsh Marigolds are are also known as Cowlips, Maybuds or Kingcups. The yellow flowers are reminiscent of Buttercups. Caltha is derived from ancient Greek meaning Goblet; palustis is from Latin meaning “of the marsh.”
Common Camas Camassia quamash 6-26″ William Clark wrote in his journals “…the quawmash is now in blume at a Short distance it resemhles a lake of fine clear water, So complete is this deseption that on first Sight I could have Sworn it was water. …” Camas bulbs were the most traded food by Northwest natives after dried salmon. The bulbs were traditionally cooked in pits. Cooking is necessary for maximum conversion of the inulin in to fructose to reduce intestinal distress (gas!).
HarebellCampanula rotundifolia 4-20″ Also known as Bluebells of Scotland, this plant has the typical blue bell-shaped flowers of campanulas. It is found throughout much of North America and Europe. The basal leaves are often round, the meaning of rotundifolia, but the leaves further up are more linear
Farewell-to-Spring Clarkia amoena 6-24″ This beautiful annual flower with it shades of pink and white was named in honor of William Clark. The fruit is a dry capsule, which splits open when mature to release the numerous seeds; it often will continue to self-sow for several years. Amoena means “charming.”
Large-flowered Collomia Collomia grandiflora 4-36″ This peachy flowered annual was first described by explorer David Douglas. The genus name “Collomia” means glue, referring to the sticky seeds.
Pretty Shooting Star Dodecatheon pulchellum 6-20″ Also known as Dark-throat or Few-flowered Shooting Star. This wildflower has attractive “upside down” purple/magenta flowers above a short yellow tube. Dodecatheon means “12 gods.” pulchellum means “pretty.”
Showy Fleabane Erigeron speciosus 6-30″ This is a daisy-like flower with numerous lavender-blue ray flowers with a yellow center. Erigeron means “old man,” referring to the white hair on the seed heads. The dried flowers were used in Medieval times for repelling fleas.
Oregon Sunshine Eriophyllum lanatum 4-40″ This has bright daisy-like yellow flowers and gray leaves. It is also called Wooly Eriophyllum. Both the genus and species names refer to the wooly hairs on the leaves, which help to provide some drought-tolerance.
Western Wallflower Erysimum capitatum 24-48″ Belonging in the mustard family, its fragrant flowers are most typically bright golden, yellow, or tangerine-colored. A European relative earned the name wallflower for its habit of growing on stone and masonry fences and walls. Wallflowers are important sources of food for wildlife, including the caterpillars of a number of butterfly and moth species.
Ballerina California Poppy Eschscholzia californica ‘Ballerina’ 8-14″ Not strictly native, although the species does occur in several Washington and Oregon counties, as well as California. This selected mix has filly crepe-like flowers in mixed colors of pink, yellow, cream, orange, and red. I love the colors, plus the name has significance, since my future daughter-in-law has been dancing ballet since she was small.
Blanketflower Gaillardia aristata 24-30″ This species is found mostly east of the Cascades in Washington and in the interior northwest states. It is a large composite flower with yellow (often with with red towards the center) ray flowers and reddish brown central disk flowers.
Northern Bedstraw Galium boreale 8-16″ This wildflower has clusters of creamy white flowers on upright stems. Leaves are in whorls of 4. The whole plant is sticky to touch. When dried it has a sweet hay-like scent and has been used since medieval times as a stuffing for mattresses.
Prairie Smoke Geum triflorum 8-20″ This is another wildflower which is more common on the east side of the Cascades. It has interesting magenta-pink nodding flowers. Also known as Old Man’s Whiskers, it gets both its names from its feathery pink/mauve seedheads. A mass of Prairie Smoke creates a pinkish haze across the prairie.
Globe Gilia Gilia capitata 6-36″ Also known as Blue Thimble Flower, this wildflower bears scented, blue flowers in tight balls that look a bit like a pincushion with pins sticking in it. Globe Gilia is a favorite of butterflies & bees.
Prairie Junegrass Koeleria macrantha 8-28″ Not a wildflower, but a lovely, fine-leaved, native tufted bunchgrass. Fresh spring foliage emerges with a touch of blue. Silvery-green airy seed heads form in late spring offering an attractive vertical element to your garden. Bunchgrasses do not spread by runners, they remain in a “bunch.” —drought tolerant once established.
Lewis Flax Linum lewisii 6-36″ This wildflower has blue-green needle-like leaves on graceful stems. Usually sky blue, the attractive flowers can also range from white to yellow to red. Cultivated flax (Linum usitatissimum) is grown both for fiber (flax, linen) and seed oil (linseed).
Spring Gold Lomatium utriculatum 6-24″ “Spring gold” is a fitting name for this little wildflower. Brilliant, yellow flowers bloom in spring. Also known as Fine-leaved Desert Parsley, this carrot relative produces flower umbels above a rosette of finely dissected, ferny foliage. It attracts many pollinators and is a host plant for the anise swallowtail butterfly. — drought tolerant once established.
Broadleaf Lupine Lupinus latifolius 2-4′ Classic palmate lupine leaves but with noticeably wider leaflets. It has a bushy, densely branched habit forming multiple flowering stems. Blooms are a lovely, airy lavender-purple on spires up to 10 inches tall. This is a very adaptable lupine for your garden but will appreciate good drainage. Bumblebees love lupines!
Common Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis 12-40″ Evening primrose has attractive pale yellow flowers. The flowers open in the evening and close in the morning. It is a biennial, growing leaves the first year, flowering the 2nd year. Evening primrose attracts bees and different kinds of night butterflies & moths such as hawk moths. Finches eat its seeds.
Slender Cinquefoil Potentilla gracilis 12-24″ This wildflower has palmately divided, 7-9 leaflets, with hairy, silver undersides. Yellow flowers are borne on erect flower stalks. Native bees, butterflies, syrphid flies, and other beneficial insects are attracted to the flowers. It is also a host plant for the caterpillars of butterflies such as the two-banded checkered skipper.
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta 24-36″ Also known as Gloriosa Daisy. This sunflower-like flower has large golden, orange or bicolor ray flowers which surround a button of dark chocolate disc flowers. Butterflies of many species are attracted to its bright blooms and birds eat the seeds.
Blue Skullcap Scutellaria laterifolia 24-30″ This wildflower, also known as Mad Dog Skullcap, has tiny snapdragon-like blue flowers on a flower spike. This mint relative grows in wet open woods or meadows, but is not as aggressive as a mint. Its extracts have been used in herbal medicine as a mild sedative and sleep promoter.
Venus Looking Glass Trodanis perfoliata 4-12″ In the Campanula family, this wildflower has violet-blue bell-shaped or more open star-shaped flowers. It is pollinated by small native bees. The seeds of a European species are said to be so shiny that they appeared to be tiny mirrors, or looking glasses, however the seeds of T. perfoliata are too small to appear shiny to the naked eye.
Canary VioletViola praemorsa 6-10″ This cute little violet is just perfect for the front border of your perennial bed, rock gardens, or along open paths in your woodland garden. It attracts many pollinators. Thick, fuzzy, lance-shaped leaves form a crown that enlarges over time by short rhizomes.
Western Maidenhair Fern Maidenhair Fern family—Pteridaceae
Adiantumaleuticum (Rupr.) Paris
Names: Adiantum aleuticum is also known as A. pedatum var. aleuticum.Adiantum comes from the Greek, adiantos (unwetted), referring to how the leaves shed water. Aleuticum is derived from the Aleutian Islands. Pedatum means foot-like (usually a bird’s), referring to its fan-shaped fronds. Common names include: Five-finger Fern and Northern or Aleutian Maidenhair. The term Maidenhair may have been derived from the species A.capillus-veneris, (literally Venus’s hair), perhaps due to the dark, glossy hair-like leaf stalks. Ginkgo biloba is called “Maidenhair Tree” because the leaves resemble the pinnules of Maidenhair ferns.
Relationships: There are about 200 species in Adiantum worldwide, with about 9 native to the mainland United States and Canada, and about 11 more found in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Northern Maidenhair, Adiantum pedatum, from the Eastern United States, is very similar. A key must be used to distinguish the two, — A. aleuticum sometimes has ascending or vertical pinnae, A. pedatum always are horizontal.
Distribution of Adiantum aleuticum from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Western Maidenhair can be found from the Aleutian Islands and southeast Alaska to Chihuahua in Mexico. It is more common along the Pacific Coast, but can be found in some areas of the inland Rocky Mountain Region, and in some northeastern states, Quebec and Newfoundland (listed as endangered in Maine).
Growth: This species grows 4-30 inches (10-75 cm) tall.
Habitat: It grows in shady, moist, humid forests, or on rocks and cliffs, often within the spray zone of waterfalls.
Diagnostic Characters: Western Maidenhair is a deciduous perennial with solitary (or few) fronds. It often grows in large colonies. Dark brown to purplish-black petioles divide into 2 and then divide again, spreading parallel to the ground, radially to form 6-10 “fingers.” Each leaflet or pinnule is fan-shaped but is usually skewed long on one side, creating an oblong shape. Oblong sori are found on the edges of the upper lobes of the leaflets and are covered by inrolled leaf margins (false indusia).
In the Landscape: Maidenhair Ferns are prized by gardeners for their delicate, airy fronds. Western Maidenhair is sure to evoke memories for avid hikers of enchanting waterfalls, where it grows on cliffs within reach of water spray. But the gardener should make sure this charmer gets planted in a shady place with plenty of moisture.
The Cliff walls in Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park are mostly covered with Maidenhair Ferns.
Use by People: Natives used the stems of Maidenhair Fern in basketry designs. They also used a tea made from the leaves as a hair wash. The Quinault burnt the leaves and rubbed ashes in their hair to make it long, shiny and black. California natives used the stems for pierced earrings, either alone or with feathers; inserting them into the ear lobe to keep the hole from closing. The leaves were also chewed for internal wounds, chest pain, or stomach trouble. Capillaire cough syrup originally made from A.capillus-veneris has also been made from A. aleuticum.
Names: The genus is named after British botanist Thomas J. Woodward. Chain Ferns get their common name from the chain-like rows of oblong sori on the undersides of the pinnae. The species name, fimbriata means fringed, due to the margins having many tiny spines. This species may also be called Western Chain Fern or Giant Chain Ferry.
Relationships: There are about 14-20 species of Woodwardia in the northern hemisphere, with only 3 species in the U.S. and Canada.
Distribution of Giant Chain Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Giant Chain Fern has been found in Texada and Vancouver Islands in British Columbia, and in the Puget Sound region of Washington where it is listed as sensitive. It is more common from southern Oregon and California to northwest Mexico, mostly near the coast, but can also be found inland in Arizona and Nevada.
Growth: Fronds typically grow 1-5 feet (0.4-1.5 m) but may grow up to 9 feet (3m).
Habitat: Giant Chain Fern grows in mild, wet coastal forests. It is sometimes found growing on seepy coastal cliffs or in desert areas near shady seeps. Wetland designation: FACW, it usually occurs in wetlands, but is occasionally found in non-wetlands.
Diagnostic Characters: Evergreen fronds grow upright or slightly bent, from a short, robust rhizome. They are broadly feather-shaped with once-pinnate, deeply cut segments; margins having pointed teeth tipped with tiny spines.
In the Landscape: About Woodwardia fimbriata, Hitchcock writes: “This is surely our choicest large fern.” Being the largest, it is certainly the most impressive of all our ferns, it performs best in a woodland garden especially next to streams, bogs, springs or ponds, but it can also grow in full sun with adequate summer moisture. It can be very striking as a focal point or when planted against a wall in a shady location. It readily produces “sporeling plants” in wet areas. It also may be propagated in the spring by division of the rhizomes–but judicious collection of spores is preferable where this species is rare.
Use by People: Natives in California used the leaves for fiber to make baskets, and to line the top and bottom of an earth oven for baking acorn bread and other foods.
Names: Blechnum comes from a general Greek name for fern. Spicant means spiked referring to the erect fertile fronds. Other common names include: Hard Fern or Rough Spleenwort. It also has been known as Struthiopteris spicant.
Relationships: There are about 150-220 species of Blechnum (generally known as Hard Ferns or Midsorus Ferns) throughout the world, most are from tropical regions in the southern hemisphere, with just a few in the temperate regions of both hemispheres. This genus spans the globe from the southern-most fern species, B. penna-marina, from Cape Horn to arctic regions in Iceland and Norway. A few Ecuadorean species reach tree stature growing up to 3 meters tall. Only two other species occur in the mainland United States (in the Gulf States & Florida)—these and 5 additional species also occur in Puerto Rico.
Distribution of Deer Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Deer Fern is found in Europe, northern Asia, Japan and in western North America from southern Alaska to the central California coast; mostly west of the Cascades, but it also is reaches east to the Idaho panhandle.
Fertile fronds emerging vertically from the center of the more horizontal sterile fronds.
Diagnostic Characters: Deer fern has two types of fronds: narrow, evergreen, once-pinnate (or deeply lobed), sterile leaves spread outward, growing 10-80 cm long; even narrower, taller (1-3 feet), fertile fronds grow erect, from the center, soon withering after spore dispersal. The once-pinnate leaflets on the fertile fronds are much narrower and roll almost tube-like around the continuous sori. Leaf stalks are a dark, purplish-brown, and grow from a short, thick rhizome.
Fertile fronds have edges that are rolled under.
Habitat: This species grows best in moist to wet forests and along streambanks. Wetland designation: FAC+, Facultative, it is equally likely to occur in wetlands or non-wetlands.
In the Landscape: Hitchcock writes: Deer Fern “is a truly choice fern usable in many places in the garden, but so common as to have little appeal to most gardeners.” That said, it is one of the best native ferns for landscapes, second only to Sword Fern. Although at home in a woodland garden, it can adapt to many situations, given adequate shade and/or moisture. Deer Fern has also been used as a houseplant.
Use by People: The roots and young shoots were cooked and eaten as an emergency food; the young tender stems can also be peeled and the center portion eaten to relieve hunger; the leaves eaten to prevent thirst. The leaflets have been chewed to treat cancer, lung disorders and stomach problems; and a decoction of the root to treat diarrhea. The leaves were used medicinally on skin sores, which is said to have been learned by watching deer rub their antler stubs in this plant. The fronds were also used to line pits for baking camas (along with Sword Fern) and have been used for bedding.
Use by wildlife: Deer fern provides valuable forage for deer, Mountain Goat, Bighorn Sheep, elk, moose, and caribou.
Ostrich Fern USDA: The Wood Fern Family—Dryopteridaceae
Newer classification: The Sensitive Fern Family—Onocleaceae
Matteuccia struthiopteris (L.) Todaro
Names: The genus is named after Carlo Matteucci an Italian physicist and pioneer in the study of bioelectricity. Struthio is the ostrich genus; pteris means fern— the fronds resemble ostrich feathers. It is also known as Shuttlecock Fern, because of the way the fronds grow in a clump, like the feathery tail of a badminton birdie!
Relationships: Ostrich Fern is the only species in the genus Matteuccia.
Distribution of Ostrich Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: It is found in many of the temperate regions in the northern hemisphere. In North America, it is found throughout much of the northeast and across Canada; but only reaches the west coast in southern Alaska and British Columbia. It is listed as rare, of special concern or vulnerable in Indiana, Rhode Island and New York.
Growth: Sterile, deciduous fronds grow to nearly 6 feet in moist, moderate climates. In less than ideal conditions it is often much shorter, usually 1-5ft. (30-140cm). Ostrich Fern spreads by underground rhizomes to form new crowns and often grows in dense colonies, resistant to destruction by floodwaters.
Habitat: Ostrich Fern is hardy to extreme cold and is most often found in lowland or montane alluvial forests, riverbanks and sandbars.
Diagnostic Characters: The sterile, bright-green fronds grow nearly vertical in vase-like clusters. They are broadest in the middle upper ¼ of the frond and are once-pinnate with deeply cut pinnae. Brown, fertile fronds are shorter (60cm) and narrower, leaf tissue curling over the spore cases; they persist over winter, releasing spores in early spring.
In the Landscape: Ostrich Fern is a popular garden ornamental. Although spectacularly beautiful in the early summer, it may start looking haggard later in the summer, depending on local conditions. It prefers a moist, cool location protected from winds. It is easily propagated by division.
Use by People: The fiddleheads are sometimes eaten raw, or cooked, most notably in Japan; the flavor is sometimes compared to asparagus. As with all ferns, caution is advised, especially consuming raw parts.
Use by Wildlife: It is used as a food plant by the larvae of some moths.
Western Oak Fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris (L.) Newman(jim-no-KARP-ee-um dry-OP-ter-is) (Tetraploid N-80) &
Pacific Oak Fern Gymnocarpium disjunctum (Rupr.) Ching (jim-no-KARP-ee-um dis-junkt-um) –Formerly considered a subspecies of G. dryopteris. (Diploid N=40)
Names: Gymnocarpium means naked fruit because the spore cases are not covered with an indusium. The common name and specific epithet dryopteris refers to its similarity to the genus Dryopteris, (which literally means Oak (or Wood) Fern). Disjunctum refers to the separation of this species from G. dryopteris.
Relationships: There are only about 8 species of gymnocarpium, mostly in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Common names of G. dryopteris include Western or Northern Oak Fern. Dryopteris disjuncta is a botanical synonym. Many of the western forms appear to be diploid, as opposed to the European and eastern U.S. tetraploids, and are now often given the name, Pacific or Western Oak Fern, G. disjunctum (disjunct- means separated).
Distribution: G. dryopteris is distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere, whereas G. disjunctum is confined to the coastal northwest of North America and the Pacific coast of Russia. G. dryopteris is listed as endangered, threatened or vulnerable in Illinois, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio, Rhode Island, and New York.
Distribution of Western Oak Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution of Pacific Oak Fern from USDA Plants Database
Growth: Pacific Oak Fern is generally a larger plant than Western Oak Fern (10-40 cm vs. 5-25 cm long fronds), with more divided leaves and smaller spores.
It is hard to tell the difference between these two species and I admit I am not an expert, but I believe this is a Pacific Oak Fern.
Habitat: In the Pacific Northwest, these ferns grow in shady, moist woods, streambanks and wet cliffs. Despite its name, it is not usually found in association with oaks, preferring mixed coniferous forests. Wetland designation: FAC, Facultative, it is equally likely to occur in wetlands or non-wetlands.
Diagnostic Characters: Although the fronds are most often born singly, they spread by rhizomes, forming large colonies. The deciduous fronds are broadly triangular, 2-3 pinnate and hairless. Spore cases are round and uncovered.
In the Landscape: Oak Ferns make a nice groundcover in a woodland garden; their lush, bright green fronds brighten a dark forest floor. They can be propagated by division.
Oak Fern and Vanilla Leaf on a forest floor.
Use by People: The presence of Oak Fern was a sign of water for the Okanagan tribe when travelling through the mountains.
Use by Wildlife: Grizzly Bear and Elk have been observed eating Oak Fern.
Spreading Wood Fern The Wood Fern Family—Dryopteridaceae
Dryopteris expansa Adans.
Names: Dryo- comes from a Greek word meaning tree, or more specifically oak—the same root as is found in the words dryad and druid. Pteris means fern. Expansa means expanding or spreading. Botanical synonyms include D. austriaca, D. assimilis, and D. dilatata. This species is also known as Arching, Northern, Spiny, Redwood, or Creekbank Wood fern; Northern, Alpine or Broad Buckler Fern; or Shield Fern.
Relationships: There are about 250 Dryopteris sp. in the temperate northern hemisphere. They are generally called Wood Ferns, Male Ferns, or Buckler Ferns. Many are popular ornamentals. About 18 species are found in the mainland United States, (several naturally occurring hybrids, too), about a dozen are native to Hawaii.
Distribution of Spreading Wood Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Spreading Wood Fern is native throughout much of the temperate regions in the northern hemisphere, from the subarctic to high altitudes in southern mountains. In the U.S. it occurs from Alaska to northern California, mostly west of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon; it also is found spottily in the Rocky Mountain States, in the Great Lakes region, and eastern Canada.
Growth: Spreading Wood Fern grows to 3 feet (1m)
Habitat: It grows in moist forests, streambanks, and mountain slopes. Wetland designation: FACW, It usually occurs in wetlands, but is occasionally found in non-wetlands.
Diagnostic Characters: Deciduous fronds are usually clustered and erect to wide-spreading. They are triangular to oblong shaped; 2-3 pinnate. The lowest pinnae pair are usually longer, triangular and asymmetrical. Spore cases are rounded, on the undersides of pinnae. The erect or ascending rhizome often produces offshoots, which may be divided.
In the Landscape: Spreading Wood Fern is easy to grow and its fine-textured, lacy leaves are ideal for a woodland garden.
Use by natives: Northwest natives ate the rhizomes, baking them in pits overnight. Pounded roots were applied to cuts. The leaves were soaked and used to wash hair. Eskimos removed the chaffy covering and boiled the fiddleheads and ate them with seal oil and dried fish or in soups. The root has been used to treat internal parasites, such as tape worms.
Use by Wildlife: Spreading Wood Fern is eaten in small amounts by Blue Grouse and Mountain Goats. Some Dryopteris sp. are used as a larval food plant for moths.
Coastal Wood Fern, Dryopteris arguta, is more common in California and western Oregon but can be found in a few locales northwards to areas surrounding Vancouver, B.C. It is also known as Marginal Wood Fern, or Western Shield Fern. Arguta means sharp-toothed. Coastal Wood Fern grows in moist forest edges, rocky sea cliffs and drier oak woodlands. It has scale-like chaff on its leaf stalk and evergreen glandular leaves. Fronds are feather-shaped, 20-60 cm. long, 1-pinnate; deeply cut pinnae have small, tiny teeth along their margins.
Spinulose Wood Fern, Dryopteris carthusiana, is widespread across temperate and arctic regions in the northern hemisphere. It is also known as Toothed Wood Fern, Narrow Buckler Fern or Shield Fern. Spinulose means having small spines; carthusiana means from the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps. Deciduous, 20-70 cm long, fronds are narrow and 2-3 pinnate, with the lowermost pinnae about the same length as adjacent pinnae. It is preferred moose forage.
Male Fern, Dryopteris felix-mas, is common throughout much of the northern hemisphere.It is found throughout northeastern and western North America, only spottily in the Pacific Northwest. Felix-mas means fruitful or happy male.Deciduous, sometimes evergreen, non-glandular fronds are broadly lance-shaped, 20-120 cm long, and 1-2 pinnate. This very popular garden ornamental grows vase-like and withstands some drought in shade. Some cultivated varieties are available. It is often used for cut flower arrangements. It is considered poisonous, but the root has been used to expel tapeworms.
Names: Athyrium possibly comes from the Greek athyros, meaning doorless, referring to the late opening of the spore cases. Filix-femina means fern-lady, referring to its delicate fronds in comparison to the Male Fern, Dryopteris filix-mas. (Felix means happy or fruitful/fertile; a happy or fruitful lady could also be an appropriate name for this aggressive fern!)
Relationships:There are about 180 species of Athyrium worldwide; with only two species in the mainland United States.
Distribution of Lady Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Lady Fern is abundant throughout the northern hemisphere; found in all the states and provinces in North America.
Habitat: It grows in moist to wet forests, meadows and streambanks. Wetland designation: FAC, Facultative, it is equally likely to occur in wetlands or non-wetlands.
Growth: Lady Fern grows to 6 feet, (2m) tall.
Diagnostic Characters: It has large, feathery 2-3 pinnate fronds, tapering at both ends, arising from a cluster of scaly rhizomes. Sori, or spore cases, are elongated and curved, oblong to horseshoe-shaped.
In the Landscape: This species, with its graceful, lacy, bright, yellow-green fronds, is very eye-catching. It may, however be a little too aggressive for a formal garden, but is ideal for a wild, moist, woodland garden, where it can freely multiply. It dies back completely in winter. Some may consider the withered fronds a bit unsightly.
Use by people: Natives ate the roots/rhizomes after roasting or baking in a pit. They should always be cooked prior to consumption; many ferns contain carcinogens, so caution is advised. A tea made from the rhizomes or stems were used for various women’s complaints and to ease pain. The leaves were used to cover camas while baking, to cover berry baskets and to wipe fish.
Use by Wildlife: Roosevelt Elk and deer Eat Lady Fern in the fall on the Olympic Peninsula, but it is not a major food species. Grizzly Bears also eat the fronds.
Alpine Lady Fern, Athyriumamericanum is found on open, rocky slopes along streams in our mountains. It is also known as A. distentifolium var. americanum, or A. alpestre var. americanum. It is much smaller, with narrower, crinkled fronds.
Western Sword FernThe Wood Fern Family–Dryopteridaceae
Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl
Names: Polystichum means many rows, referring to the arrangement of the spore cases on the undersides of the fronds. Munitum means armed with teeth, referring to its toothed fronds. Western Sword Fern is also known as Sword Holly Fern, Giant Holly Fern, Christmas Fern, Pineland Sword Fern, or Chamisso’s Shield Fern.
Relationships: There are about 260 species of Polystichum worldwide with about 16 native to North America; and about 10 native to the Pacific Northwest.
Distribution of Western Sword Fern from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: Western Sword Fern is found from southeast Alaska to the central California coast, mostly on the west of the Cascades; eastward to northern Idaho into northwest Montana. Disjunct populations have been found in South Dakota and on Guadalupe Island off Baja California.
Growth: Western Sword Fern grows up to 4.5 feet (1.5m) tall.
Habitat: It is usually found in moist forests, but it is probably the most adaptable of all our ferns and can take a bit more sun than other ferns and some dry periods. Wetland designation: FACU, it usually occurs in non-wetlands but occasionally is found in wetlands.
Sword Fern is very common in the understory in our westside forests.
Diagnostic Characters: Large, erect fronds form from a crown of scaly rhizomes. Fronds are once-pinnate with alternate pointed, sharp-toothed leaflets; each leaflet with a small lobe pointed forward at the base. Sori (spore cases) are large and round arranged in two rows on the undersides of the fronds halfway between the midvein and margins.
In the Landscape: Western Sword Fern is the most widespread and versatile of all our native ferns. Although at home in woodlands, it often adapts to drier, sunnier sites in landscapes. Its tall arching fronds are most impressive planted in drifts in a woodland garden. When grown in the sun, the fronds are dwarfed and more erect; and have pinnae (leaflets) that are crisped and crowded so that they overlap and appear overlapping. Young ferns are also more frilly-looking.
Phenology: Fronds partially unroll their “fiddleheads” by late May; by late July the spores are near maturity.
Sword Fern Fiddleheads.
Use by natives: The roots/rhizomes were generally viewed by natives as a famine food. (This plant probably should only be consumed in small quantities, if at all, due to possible presence of carcinogens or other toxins.) The rhizomes were peeled and then boiled or baked in a pit on hot rocks covered with fronds. The fronds were used frequently for lining baking pits and storage baskets; and were spread on drying racks to prevent berries from sticking. They were variously used for placemats, floor coverings, bedding; and for games, dancing skirts and other decorations. They are frequently used today in flower arrangements.
Use by wildlife: Western Sword Fern is browsed by deer, elk, Black Bear and Mountain Beaver; frequently eaten by Roosevelt Elk on the Olympic Peninsula. The fronds may be used as nesting material for rodents.
Western Sword Fern outcrosses frequently and hybrids have been identified from crosses with Anderson’s Holly Fern (P. andersonii), Mountain Holly Fern,(P. scopulinum) California Sword Fern (P. californicum), Shasta Fern (P. lemmonii), and Narrowleaf Sword Fern, (P. imbricans)
Other Polystichum sp., native to the Pacific Northwest:
Narrowleaf Sword Fern,P. imbricans is similar to Western Sword Fern and once was classified as a variety of P. munitum. It is smaller (20-60cm) with overlapping, somewhat infolded leaflets and only scarcely scaly stipes (petioles). It is a better choice for a sunny spot.
Anderson’s Holly Fern,P. andersonii is much rarer; found in deep woods in the mountains. Fronds grow to 1 meter. It has a conspicuously chaffy fiddlehead and leaf stalk. Pinnae are deeply cut making it appear doubly pinnate. Bulblets form at the base of pinnae near the tip and may grow into a new plant when the frond touches the ground!
Anderson’s Holly Fern
Braun’s Holly Fern,P. braunii, is big (to 1m) and has twice pinnate leaves with no basal lobes. It grows in moist woodlands. (Native to British Columbia, southern Alaska, the Idaho panhandle—Listed as threatened or endangered in several eastern U.S. states).
California Sword Fern,P. californicum, has finely toothed leaflets rather than the prominently toothed leaflets in Western Sword Fern; each tooth is short, ending abruptly. It will grow in a variety of habitats from moist, shaded woods to open slopes, and dry, rocky terrain. It is rare in Washington & Oregon, listed as sensitive in Washington, only found in or near the Cascades in Pierce & Thurston counties).
Kruckeberg’s Holly Fern,P. kruckebergii is believed to be a fertile hybrid of P. lonchitis & P. lemmonii. It is found sporadically in the Cascades, Sierras, & Rocky Mountains on rocks and cliffs and is considered rare or imperiled in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, California and B.C.; and “of concern” in Oregon. Fronds are about 10-25cm long. Short leaflets are oval to triangular, overlapping and twisted; with teeth tipped with spines. It is named after Dr. Arthur Kruckeberg, the well-known botanist and native plant gardener and enthusiast.
Kwakiutl Holly Fern,P.kwakiutlii is known only from the type specimen, collected at Alice Arm, British Columbia in 1934. It is presumed to be one of the diploid progenitors of P. andersonii. It also produced bulblets, but differs from P. andersonii in its completely divided pinnae (leaflets). Kwakiutl is a name applied to the native people in British Columbia on Vancouver Island and surrounding areas.
Lemmon’s or Shasta Holly Fern,P.lemmonii: Fronds are twice pinnate; pinnae have no spines and are overlapping and twisted, making it appear cylindrical. This species grows in serpentine rock crevices; and is found sporadically in the Cascades from B.C. to northern California. It is only known from one site in B.C. where it is listed as threatened.
Northern Holly Fern,P. lonchitis, grows in mountains, often in rock crevices, throughout much of the northern hemisphere. Lonchitis is from the Greek logch meaning spear, referring to its spear-shaped leaves. It is once pinnate with spiny leaflets; resembling a miniature Sword Fern. It is listed as endangered in New York; and is on a review list in California.
Mountain Holly Fern or Rock Sword Fern,P.scopulinum is also like a smaller Sword Fern but is shinier and more leathery with spiny-toothed leaves. It is nearly bipinnate with long hairs on the teeth of each leaflet. It is found in dry coniferous forest or more commonly on cliffs and talus slopes. It is more frequent east of the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains; it also grows in eastern Canada.
Alaska Holly Fern,P. setigerum, is presumed to a hybrid between P. munitum and P.braunii. Fronds are 2-pinnate about the middle, finely spiny-toothed. It is found in lowland coastal forests in Alaska and B.C. It may be able find a niche in a cool, moist woodland garden.